When I moved to Davie, Florida
in 1981, the Broward County town's population was roughly 15,000
people and 16,000 horses. For the entire decade of the 1970s,
I was told, the horses had greatly outnumbered the humans. In
case of a civil defense emergency, every resident could ride to
safety on the back of a faithful steed. For a newcomer from New
York City like me, the horses -- and the many cows grazing off
University Drive and other roads -- were a real treat.
Like all new Floridians, I wanted growth to slow down once I had arrived, and I liked Davie's rural lifestyle. But as condo developments multiplied, it was getting obvious that soon the horde of two-legged residents would overwhelm my equine friends. I wondered what the horses thought about the expansion of Davie. No one had ever asked them how they felt about the strip malls taking over their territory. Surely, I reasoned, the only way to fix this problem was to grant horses the right to vote in Davie elections. So in late 1981, I sent a press release to the local papers, explaining my position and declaring my candidacy for a seat on the DavieTown Council.
"Horses want votes, not just oats," my press release declared. I made my first campaign promise. Until horses were enfranchised, I would express my solidarity with them by voting "neigh" on every issue that came up before the council. I knew that I was a dark horse candidate. But if Davie had animal suffrage,I figured I'd be riding high in the Gallop poll. After all, my constituency had horse sense. And I also planned to beef up my support among Davie's cattle population. They knew I wouldn't kowtow to developers and that I wouldn't steer them wrong. How could I, a human, represent these animals? Simple. I figured that if I made enough campaign speeches, surely I'd become a little hoarse myself. By making this early announcement in the newspaper, I figured I could scare off incumbent Davie Mayor Scott Cowan from running for reelection. (In Davie, the mayor was selected annually from among the council members, and Mayor Cowan was the representative for the district I lived in.)
A day after I announced my candidacy, Cowan announced his retirement. He claimed he was planning to run for the County Commission instead. Though he's served on the Commission for a long time now, I figure it was only a cheap political ploy to avoid facing me in the Town Council election. Surprisingly, another candidate jumped into the race to take Cowan's place in my district. I knew I was in a political fight and needed all the support I could corral. Sparing no expense, I donated $72 to my campaign treasury. That covered the cost of filing to get on the ballot and completely wiped out my campaign funds for the rest of the election.
Since other candidates were being listed on the ballot as V.J. (Bud) Jenkins and M. Arthur (Art) Lazear, I thought I could get listed with my nickname, too. But the Town Clerk didn't see it my way, and so the people never got a chance to vote for Richard (Hoss) Grayson. Dan Blocker of "Bonanza" fame was probably turning over in his grave. A friend contributed not money but a campaign song, to the tune of television's "Mr. Ed":
Okay, so it wasn't "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too." But I was definitely on the fast track. Unfortunately, in a blatant political power play, the then-sitting Town Council refused to grant suffrage to horses and cows in time for the March 1982 election. Robbed of my grass-roots supporters, I knew I'd have to broaden my base or else I'd be saddled with an image as a one-issue candidate.
I decided to make myself into a law-and-order candidate, so I called for arming the Davie police force with tactical nuclear weapons. Not wanting to appear a wimp, I served notice that once in power, I would consider a preemptive strike on neighboring Cooper City. I figured Cooper City was small enough sowe could take it easily and that it would serve as a warning to larger towns like Sunrise and Plantation that Davie meant business.
"What can be done to improve Davie?" I was asked by one newspaper editor. "Move it to Vermont in the summer," I responded. As the campaign trotted on, it was becoming clear that I was not being taken seriously. Several people suggested that was because I had raised no money, attended no candidate nights, and had no brochures, posters or advertising. I thought all that stuff was beneath a semi-famous writer like myself; besides, it was hard work. But finally I got off my high horse and deigned to appear at a few functions.
I went to a meeting of the county Board of Realtors, who were interviewing candidates for their endorsement. I think I blew their support when I said I was for stabilizing rents and confiscating private property for more grazing land. "Are you a Marxist?" one of the board members asked me. I said yes, but at the time I thought he was referring to Groucho. I didn't get the endorsement of any of the newspapers, either. I probably shouldn't have answered The Miami Herald editor's question about why I was running by telling her I wanted to get in on all the graft and corruption. She editorialized that my candidacy seemed like some kind of joke. That cost me a bit of credibility.
A crucial night in the campaign was the big debate with all the Davie candidates at Town Hall, a Western-style building with a horse's head sculpture proudly standing -- if you can say that a head can stand -- out front. (If I were elected, I promised to appropriate money to complete the animal's anatomy, rear end and all.) All of the candidates were invited, including an incumbent who was running unopposed in one district. This debate was my chance to score with the TV audience, since it would be televised on the local cable company's public access channel. I knew we'd get high ratings, so I made sure I wore a nice suit and tie.
In the Town Council chambers, just before the debate started, I needed to make sure I looked photogenic. The lens of a camera served as a perfect mirror. What I didn't know was that the camera was on and that the TV audience was getting a very close closeup of me straightening my tie, smoothing my hair, and examining my skin pores. My parents later told me they were so embarrassed they had to switch to C-Span. Needless to say, the debate probably didn't win me any new voters. And I now suspect I lost votes when I suggested changing the name of the town to the more formal David.
I was discouraged. With the election limited to humans, I knew I could count only Davie's intellectual community solidly in my corner. That meant four sure votes, including my own. And there were my parents -- if the debate fiasco hadn't led them to change their minds. I also figured I might do well with the criminal element -- the guys who hang out at the convenience store waiting to steal the pickled eggs on the counter. But even in Davie, that wasn't enough support to guarantee victory. Since my opponent had impeccable political credentials, a substantial campaign treasury and the endorsement of every paper, interest group, and both respectable politicians in the county, I figured I'd be lucky to get ten per cent of the vote.
When a reporter asked what I'd do if I won, I borrowed William F. Buckley Jr.'s line and said I'd demand a recount. On election night, I didn't go to the county courthouse to watch the results with the rest of the candidates. Nor did I accept my opponent's invitation to his victory party at a local country club. Instead, I locked myself in my room with my photos of Trigger and Black Beauty and put on the all-news radio station. By late evening the returns were in. I had 354 votes to my opponent's 1,049. Later, 3 more absentee ballots for me came in; those people had obviously left town to avoid being recognized.
When the vicious jackals of the press called to ask for my reaction to the loss, I knew what to say: "Well, they won't have Dick Grayson to kick around anymore." And I announced I was moving to North Miami Beach. Asked by a reporter if I would consider running again, I said no: "It's sort of like kissing your sister. It's OK the first time, but you don't want to do it twice."
The only hint I got of what it would be like to be a political thoroughbred was the next morning. I was coming out of the shower and heard the local news break from "Good Morning America" at 8:25 a.m. The newscaster was announcing the victorious candidates in local elections and mistakenly included my name.
For one minute on our ABC affiliate, at least, I was in the winner's circle. Today the human population of the town of Davie is over 50,000. You don't seetoo many horses anymore, but they've got a lot more auto traffic, strip shopping centers, and subdivisions. The groves of academe have replaced more pristine pastures with expansion of local universities.
Davie residents have adjusted
to the big changes. But I still can't help thinking that if horses
had been allowed to cast their ballots a dozen years ago, I would
have gotten a lot more than 25% of the vote. Yet I certainly don't
regret what I did in the 1982 election -- I'm not one to say "Whoa
is me." And I'm more certain than ever that if the horses
and I had gotten our way, we could have made Davie a more stable